The words to the familiar hymn, “True to the Faith,” echoed across the field: “Shall the youth of Zion falter In defending truth and right? While the enemy assaileth, Shall we shrink or shun the fight? No! True to the faith that our parents have cherished Faithful and true we will ever stand.”
This hymn became the theme song for the Apex North Carolina Stake youth pioneer trek at Camp Reeves in Carthage, N.C. For a few days in June, 200-plus Mormon youths 14 to 18 years old and their leaders dressed in pioneer attire and left the modern world behind as they pushed and pulled handcarts along dirt paths, through forests, across streams and over sandy trails.
The theme was “Tried, Tested and True.”
“We wanted the youth to know that they can do hard things, strengthen their testimonies and help youth gain a knowledge and understanding of the sacrifices and history of the pioneers,” said Jennifer Kennedy, the stake young women president, of the event's goals.
After four days, the teens came away better for their experiences. They could sing with conviction that as youths of Zion, they would not falter. They had faced trials, been tested and found they could be true.
One young man, Nate Gowers, of Apex, N.C., asked how the pioneers did what they did and why did they continue to sacrifice all they had to go west? The answer he found lay in the same reasons he and his fellow youths were spending the week in the woods of North Carolina: their testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon.
Many came away with a greater appreciation for those pioneers who made the trek west. Sarah Robertson, 16, of Apex, said that the pioneers who were early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had courage because of their testimonies. “It is the gospel that brings us courage,” she said.
The part of the trek that made the greatest impression on the youths was the “women’s pull.” About a mile and a half of rolling hills with deep ruts, the final few hundred yards were up a steep incline.
The young men and their designated "fathers" had been “mustered into the Mormon Battalion,” leaving the young women and the designated "mothers" to pull the handcarts along this part of the trail. Just as the women were about to give out, “angels” (young men from each family who had “died” earlier along the trial) came out to help push the carts. Eventually, the rest of the men were able to join their families.
Niagra Tang, 18, of Garner, N.C., came away from this experience deeply touched. She compared it to the Atonement and how Jesus Christ lightens loads. “This experience,” she said, “made me grateful I came and had the courage to do this trek.”
Evan Handy, 17, of Raleigh, N.C., compared this experience to when families need help. “The Lord will send his angels. He will help us when we think we cannot go further,” he shared.
Many shared how this taught them that when we reach our breaking point that God will help us. Others said that they truly felt the absence of the young men and realized how essential they were to God’s plan.
When the trek began, the youths were asked, “Why trek?” On the first day, they might have answered because they had no choice or nothing better to do. By the end of the trek, many could answer because it helped their testimonies grow, it helped them discover they were stronger than they thought and they learned to appreciate the pioneers.
Fifteen-year-old Sierra Shirk, of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., said, “Not everything is fun, but we can find joy — we can feel happy doing hard things.”
The trek was a strength-building experience — physically and spiritually, Camry Willford, of Holly Springs, N.C., said. "We built spiritual muscles on trek; we strengthened our testimonies.”
Robyn Carr is a graduate of Brigham Young University, a mother of five and grandmother of one. She lives in North Carolina. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.